Paul Van Doren, Vans Founder and Sneaker Industry Icon, Dies at 90

Vans founder and footwear industry pioneer Paul Van Doren has died. He was 90.

Members of the Van Doren family have confirmed his passing through social media today. This afternoon, Vans offered a statement about the late sneaker pioneer via Instagram.

“It is with a heavy heart that Vans announces the passing of our co-founder, Paul Van Doren. Paul was not just an entrepreneur; he was an innovator. The Van Doren Rubber Company was the culmination of a lifetime of experimentation and hard work in the shoe industry,” the company wrote. “Paul’s bold experiments in product design, distribution and marketing, along with his knack for numbers and efficiency turned a family shoe business into a globally recognized brand. We send our love and strength to the Van Doren family and the countless Vans Family members who have brought Paul’s legacy to life. Thank you for everything, Paul. You will be sorely missed.”

Van Doren launched Vans on a $250,000 investment in 1966, and nearly four decades later the brand was acquired by VF Corp. in April 2004 for $396 million.

Last month, Van Doren released his memoir, aptly titled “Authentic.” The book chronicled his early days in footwear as a service boy in the 1940s at Randolph Manufacturing Co. to the powerhouse brand Vans is today, offering valuable lessons and insights throughout.

In the foreword, Vans president Doug Palladini remembered a time walking through one of the brand’s stores with Van Doren, an experience that left a permanent fond impression.

“Somewhere in the space between 1966 and 2016, between his one factory in Anaheim and our dozens of factories across Asia, between 12 pairs and 120 million, our manufacturing base had shifted from California to Asia, but the pride in hand-assembling every pair remained. Maybe the scale, the complexity of what Vans had become, was impossible to fully comprehend, but Paul could still pick up any pair of Vans sneakers, any day, anywhere, and see just how it was made a little better than the others. It wasn’t about that specific pair of shoes as much as it was about the approach, the attitude, the commitment to excellence. It was a classic Paul Van Doren teaching moment, one that I’ll never forget,” Palladini wrote.

Beyond the storytelling and lessons offered, while reading “Authentic,” one undeniable theme emerged.

“As I went through the years, I determined that people were the answer. I had good people, we worked together and outdid the bad people. We made it work,” Van Doren told FN. “When I started my factory [in Anaheim, Calif.], I got my people together and said, ‘We are a people company that makes shoes, it’s way different than a company that makes shoes first. People are the key in everything we do.'”

He continued, “If you bring a bunch of really good people together and have a decent idea, it’s going to work.”

Paul Van Doren Vans Steve Van Doren
Vans founder Paul Van Doren (L) with his son, Steve.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Paul Van Doren

Access exclusive content